PROVIDENCE – The hole was just too big to climb out of.
A gutsy second half effort by North Smithfield wasn’t enough to knock Mount Pleasant from the unbeaten ranks in Division IV on Saturday as the Northmen left Conley Field with a 28-22 loss.
The Kilties took a 21-0 lead by halftime, but it couldn’t rest on that cushion as the Northmen came roaring back with two unanswered scores by the start of the fourth quarter. Even though Mount Pleasant was able to double its lead at 28-14 with a game-winning 26-yard run by senior Quincy Quaye with still 10:14 remaining in the contest, North Smithfield made its rival sweat it out to the end by dominating the final quarter.
“The first half our kids came out and played hard,” said MP coach Paul Rao, whose team improved to 7-0 in the league. “But they are a tough team, a real tough team. They are well-coached. They played hard. The second half they came out and played hard. Luckily we had the stamina to finish through with it. They are a tough team.”
The setback drops the Northmen to 4-2 in the league with still two games left. As for the postseason, that was secured early in the day with Hope’s 24-12 win over North Providence. The loss for the Cougars, a team that N.S. beat earlier this year, dropped them to 3-4.
Even if the Northmen lose their remaining two league games against Central Falls and Scituate, they still are postseason-bound because the worse they can finish in the four-team playoff is fourth. North Smithfield can solidify the No. 3 slot with a victory over C.F. on Friday night. A win there would set up a matchup against either Exeter/West Greenwich or Mount Pleasant, who battle each other in a duel of unbeatens next Saturday.
North Smithfield lost by just four points to the 7-0 Scarlet Knights a few weeks ago.
“We have confidence that either one of those teams we have the ability to beat,” said N.S. coach Wes Pennington. “We will continue to play the rest of the season out and look for more success. In the playoffs, when we meet we’ll meet. I personally think that between those top two teams neither one of them really wants to see us.”
North Smithfield was plagued by six turnovers in the game - all but one of those came in the first half. Two of the scores by the Kilties in the initial half were keyed by fumbles from the Northmen, including a 55-yard fumble return by Jayquan Monteiro.
“We are a young team so we have to learn some things this year,” Pennington said. “One of them is learning how to come out and play in a big game like this without the turnovers and things of that nature. That was the reason we were down 21-0. Their first three touchdowns were within 20 yards of the end zone…We gave them the three touchdowns real easy in the first half. In the second half, we decided to play a little football. We are definitely a better second-half football team than we are first half. We started making some plays. The defense started making some tackles. The next thing you know it was (28-22).”
The Northmen scored their first touchdown of the game with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter. After forcing the Kilties to give up the ball on loss of downs, North Smithfield capitalized on a five-play, 43-yard scoring drive that was capped by a one-yard TD by sophomore Paris Correia. Senior Alex Blanchette spearheaded the drive with 40 yards, including a 25-yarder that brought the ball to the three. After he gained two more yards on the ground, Correia ran right through the middle of the Kilties’ defense for the score.
On their ensuing possession, the Kilties were stopped again by the Northmen’s defense and the visitors responded with another touchdown - a 12-yard run by senior Peter Manicini. The six-play, 27-yard drive began at the tail end of the third quarter and was capped by Mancini’s run early in the fourth, a sweep to the left sideline that caught the Kilties by surprise as no one was there to stop the senior running back.
Less than a minute after that score, Mount Pleasant came back with its score by Quaye. Senior teammate Tevin Dale began the quick, two-play drive with a 21-yarder.
North Smithfield scored its final TD with 2:19 left on the clock on a halfback option. N.S. quarterback Tim Kennett pitched the ball back to Mancini, who then tossed a pinpoint 32-yard pass to Nate Lussier in the left corner of the end zone.
It may have been a loss, but Pennington believes his team’s second-half comeback against the unbeaten Kilties was a positive thing to leave the field with as the season starts to wind down.
“That’s the thing that I hinted to them,” Pennington said. “They could have easily packed it in and they didn’t. They fought back and made it a football game. Now if we could just learn to play in the first half like we play in the second half we would probably be undefeated right now.”